Tuesday, 28 December 2010

We are those lions, Mr Manager

Jayaben Desai, who led the historic strikes at Grunwick in the 1970s, has died aged 77. I was only a young girl when the events that made her famous took place, but I have been inspired by reading of her brave and determined stand for justice.

Grunwick was a film processing factory in London, mainly employing Asian women who were recent immigrants from East Africa. The managers thought they could easily see off demands to recognise a union. But Jayben Desai was not so easily intimidated. She told them to their face: “What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. In a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager."

Despite solidarity from across the country, the strike was eventually defeated after more than two years. But Desai remained defiant to the end. In one of her last public statements, she told the Guardian: "I am proud of what I did...They wanted to break us down, but we did not break."

Her life is an example to us all. May she rest in peace.